Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Summary of the Development and Peace scandal

In case you missed it, Development and Peace (the official charity of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops) was caught financing organizations in developing countries that advocate for abortion and contraception.  Here is a summary of everything you need to know.

On March 12, 2009, (a non-profit news service focusing on life and family issues) revealed that Development and Peace was funding five groups in Mexico that were pressuring the Mexican government to legalize abortion. Less than a week later, the National Catholic Register discovered that Development and Peace was funding a pro-abortion group in Bolivia. Over the following months, further investigations into Development and Peace's partners were carried out by various pro-life groups, led by and Catholic blogger John Pacheco, the main author of Socon or Bust. By June 22, 2009, LifeSiteNews had identified 19 pro-abortion groups being funded by Development and Peace. On July 24, 2009, the tally from Socon or Bust reached 40 pro-abortion and anti-family groups.

During this period, several prominent pro-life groups expressed concerns about these revelations. The most authoritative statement came from the Bishops' Conference of Peru in a letter addressed to Archbishop James Weisgerber, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB). After listing three partners of Development and Peace that are promoting abortion in their country, the Peruvian bishops stated:

“In that sense, we respectfully would like to formally request that the funding for the pro-abortion groups in Peru by the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace be halted. It is very disturbing to have groups which work against the Bishops of Peru by attempting to undermine legal protection for the right to life of unborn children, be funded by our brother bishops in Canada."

Other prominent groups to speak out against Development and Peace included Priests for Life Canada, Canadian Catholic author Michael O'Brien, the B.C. Catholic newspaper, American Life League, Catholic Insight magazine, the Population Research Institute, Human Life International (HLI), the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (CFAM) and the Latin American Alliance for the Family (ALAFA).

Response by Development and Peace and the CCCB

On March 13, 2009, the day after the initial evidence was revealed, the Executive Director of Development and Peace, Michael Casey, issued a note denying that the organization supported any partners or projects that violated Church teaching. However, Casey did not address or disprove any of the evidence presented by LifeSiteNews. Similar statements were published by Development and Peace in the subsequent weeks, but none ever addressed or disproved the growing body of evidence.

Archbishop Thomas Collins (Toronto) was the first Canadian bishop to publicly respond to the controversy. On March 18, 2009, he announced that no donations from his Archdiocese would be forwarded to Development and Peace until an investigation was completed. In the following days, the bishops of Peterborough, Kingston and Vancouver made similar announcements.

On March 20, the president of the CCCB, Archbishop James Weisgerber (Winnipeg) issued a letter stating the matter was being "carefully looked into". On April 8, the CCCB announced that it would conduct an investigation, with the assistance of Development and Peace, into the initial allegations regarding the five Mexican groups only. The report of this investigation was released on June 28 and concluded that the allegations made by LifeSiteNews and other pro-life groups were "not founded on the facts". Despite this sweeping statement, the CCCB's report did not address or disprove any of the evidence presented against the five Mexican groups, nor did it address any of the evidence presented against dozens of other partners of Development and Peace. The report also called for the organization to exercise greater vigilance in selecting its partners (although no specific guidance was provided) and that it foster better relations with the CCCB and with the local bishops in the countries in which it operates. Finally, the report reaffirmed the bishops' belief in the dignity of human life from conception to natural death.

Throughout the controversy, Archbishop Weisgerber argued that it was morally licit for Development and Peace to fund organizations that were in opposition to Church teaching, a point that caused much consternation among Catholics. To support his point, the Archbishop incorrectly claimed that the Vatican was providing funds to UNICEF despite disagreements over issues such as contraception and abortion. In reality, the Vatican had announced in 1996 that it would stop donating to UNICEF precisely because it was promoting abortion and contraception. This ban remains in effect today.

Distrust remains over Development and Peace

Given the lack of attention to the evidence, the CCCB's report does not appear to have reassured pro-life Catholics. On July 23, 2009, Archbishop Collins (Toronto), who had been withholding donations from his Archdiocese, announced that donations from Toronto would only be directed to partners of Development and Peace that were endorsed by the local bishop. He also called for a comprehensive review of Development and Peace during the coming year, guided by two key principles: 1) that Development and Peace only work with partners that are in harmony with the Catholic faith; 2) that Development and Peace obtain approval of the local bishops before funding any projects. Archbishop Collins also added that future donations from his Archdiocese would depend on the extent to which the issues of concern had been resolved. The same week, Archbishop Miller of Vancouver, who had also been withholding donations, announced that he strongly supports the steps taken by the Archdiocese of Toronto in order to prevent future controversies.

The editorial staff at LifeSiteNews also reacted to the CCCB's report by publishing a response in which they call the report a "whitewash". Similarly, Socon or Bust published a four-part rebuttal to the CCCB's report.

The CCCB is scheduled to discuss the matter further at their plenary assembly in October 2009.